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Latest TUSD scandal a sign big shakeup’s needed there

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

In the latest scandal to rock Tucson Unified School District, three top officials are on paid leave for rigging bids and violating conflict-of-interest laws.

TUSD Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen wasn’t here when these practices ensued. But she’s here now, and she needs to take strong action to show that such wrongdoing will not be tolerated.

The state Attorney General’s Office investigated district procurement practices since 2004 at the request of the TUSD Governing Board in 2006.

Board members “were very uncomfortable with what was being presented” by procurement staffers, recalled former board President Alex Rodriguez, who is “very disappointed” by the wrongdoing.

“At some level, you have to have trust in your employees. . . . When that trust is violated, the board’s role and the superintendent’s role is to hold individuals accountable.”

We wholeheartedly agree.

Now Chief Operations Officer Rudy Flores, Curriculum Director Lisa Long and Technology Coordinator Ed Kowalczyk are on paid leave, and the AG’s Office is suing Flores and former Technology Director Guyton Campbell.

The AG’s settlement with TUSD imposes a $7,500 penalty and orders that obvious ethics regulations be followed, employees retrained and procurement practices audited independently every six months for the next three years.

We recommend those independent audits be made routine in TUSD. And the directors in question should be dismissed for exploiting their positions at taxpayer expense and – more important – at the students’ expense.

TUSD has had extraordinary difficulty gaining community trust because of cases such as this.

About 4,800 employees still keenly recall how then-Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer noticed an insurance underpayment in November 2006 but didn’t report it till March 2007. And the school board didn’t get the information it needed until that May.

By then, the workers had underpaid $724,000 in health insurance premiums – and had to pay it. Two directors were suspended without pay for five days. A manager was reprimanded. That’s all.

The sloppiness and malfeasance in TUSD must be stopped now, primarily for the students’ sake.

Without the public’s confidence, the district cannot secure budget overrides, bond issues or other funding it desperately needs. So students suffer because the staff is inept or dishonest.

We urge Fagen to take a tough stand and turn this boat in a new direction. TUSD adults’ wrongdoing, whether intentional or accidental, is costing too many kids their chance at a future. This must not be allowed.

Whether corrupt or incompetent, staffers are destroying confidence in TUSD – thus costing our kids their futures.

Our Opinion

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